“…In the dear lost Ukrania
Which is not ours, though our land.”
SHEVCHENKO, national poet of Ukrania (now a Free Republic.)
WE are witnessing in Ireland to-day one of the most remarkable national rediscoveries of history. The sudden change that has come over the country the startling progress and triumph of the Sinn Féin movement the transformation of the One Bright Spot into a mightily-resolved nation loudly demanding that privilege of Self-Determination which is being bespoken for every other submerged nationality these are phenomena for which the labouring imagination of British statesmen and the Irish Times can find no explanation save that so patriotically volunteered by Mr. John Dillon – German Gold.
But it was not to earn payment from some mysterious paymaster that men of genius in 1916 took the road that they knew led to a place before the firing squad; it was not for a foreign subsidy even of £400 a year that the released prisoners worked with their lives in their hands and suffered renewed incarceration, declining food-supplies and correspondence; it was not for money that Thomas Ashe gave his life in agony; it was not for any visible reward that men were found in every Irish townland ready to brave the same fate. As we contemplate these three years’ sacrifices wise or foolish, justified or unjustifiable the most hostile critic is impressed. We are impelled to repeat John Mitchel’s protest: “No man proudly mounts the scaffold or coolly faces a felon’s death, or marches with head high and defiance on his tongue to the cell on a convict hulk FOR NOTHING. No man, be he as young or as vain as you will, does this in the insolence of youth, or the intoxication of vanity.“
No, we must look more deeply for the explanation of the renaissance of Irish National spirit. We must glance into history for the motive springs of present-day events. If we do this, we shall find that the phenomena of to-day are the workings-out of a situation created 220 years ago. In our schools history is dated from 1066 the date of a battle on the south coast of a foreign country that had no more significance for Ireland than a battle in Bohemia. The true turning-points of history for Irish people are: the Invasion; the Death of Bruce; the Battle of Kinsale; the Disarmament of the Irish Nation after the Williamite War, and lastly, Easter Week. It will be noted that the Union is not quoted, for the truth is that for the bulk of the nation, the Union was a matter of indifference. The nation was submerged at the Disarmament (1695) and the introduction of the Penal Laws, and for the masses the Union was merely a negligible change in the affairs of the Ascendancy.
From the date of the Invasion to the Battle of Kinsale, the struggle between Ireland and England was a straightforward national war, with no side-issues.
For the greater part of this time England was a Catholic country – in name and profession – and the struggling powers were of different race, different language, different laws. At Kinsale, in 1601, the Gaelic chivalry went down, and it appeared that the Irish Nation, after its age-long gallant struggle, had seen its last days. English law now ran at last in Ulster, and with Ulster beaten, England thought her power secure. The Irish annalists at this time wrote as though they regarded the nation as destroyed, and hoped only to save from the destruction the name and fame of the heroes of the past. Wonderful is the resiliency of the Irish race. Within a generation of Kinsale, the nation was in arms again.
In 1641 Ulster was ablaze; two years later, when the arrival of Eoghan Rua O’Neill, fresh from his Continental triumphs, woke confidence in the waverers, the whole country was up. At Kilkenny a legislative body displayed an enlightenment in democratic principles that was far ahead of England or Europe. But the issue was now clouded by religion. O’Neill stood for the nation, and the national aspiration was the driving force of the Confederation’s successes. But the New Irish were loyal to the English King, and professed to be standing for the Catholic Faith alone. Trying to humour them the nation came to its fall. It is not surprising to Irish readers to read in Rinnuccini’s impressions of Confederate Ireland that these “old English Catholics” who stood for a religious cause and betrayed the nation had little of the devout faith of the Old Irish, who were fighting for liberty: political religion has unchanging traits. The Old Irish failed to make O’Neill king and sever the fatal link when the chance was theirs, and so, when O’Neill was dead, Cromwell trampled the land.
Now came the great expulsions into Connacht. The only representatives of the old race to live on in the three provinces were the hewers of wood to the planters, or the fugitives in the bogs and stony mountain places. There followed the war against William, but this was a war for an English King, and for the welfare of Irish Catholic landlords. It had not the magnitude of the wars that ended at Kinsale, and it was less a national war than any that had gone before in Ireland. But it gave the victor the excuse and the means to complete Cromwell’s outlawry of the body of the Irish Nation. The Penal Code and Disarmament were imposed, and the submersion of the nation was complete.
It was said during the period of the Penal Laws that “the law does not presume such a person as an Irish Catholic to exist.” This phrase has been quoted so often that, through weariness, we have forgotten its meaning. It was not against Catholics as such that the Penal Code was aimed: it was intended to destroy the Gaelic Nation under the cover of religion. Thanks to the march of civilisation and the loyalty-proving of O’Connellised Catholics, the law no longer discriminates against people who go to Mass, but it is still true true in every phase of life that such a person as an Irish Gael is “not supposed to exist.” Before the Penal Laws, Irish nationality was never ignored the Irish people were always: “the Irish enemy.”
But from the enactment of the Penal Laws down to this day, Irish nationality has been concealed. Every law, every act of the English executive, every book written in England, every newspaper, every politician, and all expressions of the English mind, have been unanimously directed to fostering the great lie regarding Ireland: the lie that denies the existence and authority in Ireland of Ireland’s independent mind and soul.
At the present day, just as truly as when we were denied the right to practise our religion, we “are not supposed to exist.” The whole superstructure of English rule in Ireland is based on the assumption that the bulk of the nation has no rights. Our educational system is directed by the principle that the children must have the land they live in concealed from them, and their minds filled with the ideas, events, aspirations and ideals of a land foreign to their race in every detail. Our claim to Self-Determination is waived aside on the plea that we inheritors of one of the world’s most rich and unique cultures are but a domestic province of cockneydom.
In the courts of Ireland, the national language is refused recognition, and girls are imprisoned and insulted by a coarse constabulary for not giving their names in the form of a foreign jargon. The elementary right of a trial secured for all Englishmen by Habeas Corpus simply does not exist for the Gael. He may be arrested without warrant, exiled and imprisoned without trial, slandered without the right to offer a defence. A Convention of English nominees, drawn solely from parasite classes in Ireland, lacking any representative of the principles embraced by the mass of the nation, is appointed from abroad, and this body is pointed to as representative of Ireland’s mind and wishes the mind and wishes of the national Irishman not being ” supposed to exist.”
Political leaders, a slave Press, and the clergy of an alien Church planted among us and called Irish, use the expression “the nation” meaning England with aggressive repetitions intended to strengthen the denial of the Gael’s existence. Everywhere in public life irritating professions of loyalty to a foreign country, tacit hints and open sneers, and a whole devil’s paraphernalia of suggestion are used to keep the Gael continually conscious that he is an outlaw, a person in the wrong, an interloper, or an inferior. Judges use the bench to make wordy, unscrupulous attacks upon the ideals of the people and the people’s champions, to talk with dogmatic assurance of matters of the most highly debatable kind with the obvious suggestion that holders of other views are dangerous and worthless people those people being the Gaels, who have no right to opinions.
And so justice, law, administration and the whole bourgeoisie are rightly regarded by the mass of the Irish people as a big, cumbering, diabolical imposition. The most tragic feature of the submersion of the Irish Nation is, that in course of time and by dint of oft-repetition of the lie, England persuaded many of Ireland’s own children to accept their past at her valuation. The measure of the loss of the Irish tongue was ever the measure of denationalisation. Daniel O’Connell, who consciously or otherwise was the most effective ally ever England had in this country, abused his wonderful power in Ireland to induce the Irish people to adopt the English language. Had he told them to adhere to their own, they would equally have followed his advice, and the renaissance of our own days might have come seventy years earlier.
But when a large proportion of the nation adopted the foreign tongue, that mass was cut off from the memories and traditions of nationhood. In the English tongue it found nothing but falsehood regarding Ireland. The few Irishmen who had written in English hitherto had been ignorant of the splendours of Gaelic literature, and in their writings the national figures moved like unreal creatures of the stage. Cut off from Gaelic scholarship, a new generation accepted without suspicion the estimates of Ireland offered by Englishmen pledged to the propagation of the great denial. So utterly was the sense of separate cultural nationality lost in a single generation that even great John Mitchel wrote of English as “our own language.”
Lalor Shiel, who defended O’Connell, expressed vehement indignation at an English statesman’s description of the Irish people as “alien in race, language and religion.” Thus the O’Connellised Nationalist regarded as an insult what was really the prime claim of Nationality. To illustrate the amazing forgetfulness of their past which descended on an Anglicised people, we may recall that oft-told tale of how, when Thomas Moore was composing his “History of Ireland”  he visited O’Curry at the Royal Irish Academy, in company with Petrie. O’Curry had before him the Books of Ballymote and Lecain, The Leabhar Breac, The Annals of the Four Masters, and other ancient volumes. Seeing this formidable array of dark and time-worn documents, Moore (writes O’Curry):
…looked a little disconcerted, but after awhile plucked up courage to open the Book of Ballymote and ask what it was. Dr. Petrie and myself then entered into a short explanation of the history and character of the books as well as of ancient Gaelic documents in general. Moore listened with great attention, alternately scanning the books and myself, and then asked me, in a serious tone, if I understood them, and how I learned to do so. Having satisfied himself on these points, he turned to Dr. Petrie and said: ‘Petrie, these huge tomes could not have been written by fools or for any foolish purpose. I never knew anything about them before, and I had no right to have undertaken the HISTORY OF IRELAND.'”
Moore’s humility has in it something pathetic. Here was the most notable Irish literary man of his day suddenly discovering himself to be totally disqualified to speak for or of his country. Imagine an Englishman who should set out to write a history of old France from the documents of the English marauders of the Hundred Years’ War, who should be ignorant of French and should refuse to consult all writings by native Frenchmen: what a distorted picture would he present! The Gentle France of history would be as absent from his pages as though he were writing of Thibet. Yet this is precisely the plan on which Moore had been working, and the plan on which large masses of people base their conceptions of Ireland to the present day. The history of any country written without the use of the native annals is not worth the paper it is written on. Yet for a whole century, Irishmen have relied for their notions of their past on books written by men with all Moore’s ignorance of the real Ireland, and with less than his patriot instincts and sympathies. So many hundreds of books have been written by people ignorant of the language of the land they write of, and ignorant or contemptuous of the native annals and literature, that the false story has drowned the truth by dint of noisy repetition, and to-day quite well-educated people are found who are ignorant of all Ireland’s past save that insignificant and inglorious section of it which is concerned with English-speaking people in Ireland.
The awful obscurity into which the essential features of Irish history fell is emphasised by the statues set up in the Irish capital. Parnell and Father Mathew are the only two of Ireland’s greatest to be commemorated. Beside these, there are statues of men decent and agreeable, like Goldsmith and Moore; utterly foreign like King William and Nelson; insignificant nobodies like the figures in Stephen’s Green, and often bitter enemies of the Irish people and of morality. But where is Hugh O’Neill, Ireland’s greatest layman? Where is Eoghan Rua O’Neill or great Luke Wadding? Where is Art MacMurrough or Bruce, or any other Irish King? Where is Keating, who stands to Irish letters as Shakespere to English? There is, indeed, a handsome Celtic Cross, erected by Mr. W. M. Murphy, in the grounds opposite the Mater Hospital, to the memory of the Four Masters, but, apart from that solitary example, the stranger might search all Dublin for memorials of the historic Irish Nation, and at the end be as poor in discovery as if that nation never was.
Throughout Irish life to-day, the same dreadful slavish acceptance of England’s will stands before us like the dirt of the Augean stables. Gaelic Ireland, traditional Ireland, the real Ireland, living its secret life, is ignored, or recognised only in a perfunctory way, as when in speeches lip tribute is paid to “the grand old Irish tongue.” In the Irish-speaking counties, if there be but five per cent, of English speakers in the congregation, sermons in English are provided, and the tongue of the people ignored. In Dublin where, between Intermediate pupils, Gaelic Leaguers and native speakers, some twenty per cent, of the congregations can understand and are eager for Irish sermons, the national language is used in the pulpit only on St. Patrick’s Day, and then only in a few churches. Everywhere the story is the same the Gael is “not supposed to exist,” even by his own people.
Anglicisation has meant that the Gael, hypnotised by the assurances of all in power, came at last to forget his own existence. He forgot his past, forgot his individuality, and so became the will-less, wandering creature that allowed the Redmonds and the Dillons to forswear his national rights and declare him the friend of his oppressor. That which we are witnessing to-day is the Gael’s awakening to a sense of his separate existence. How the revival came we know. From the days of Davis and O’Curry, memories have’ been stirring in the submerged people. Historical research, poetic reminders, literary reconstruction, have recalled to the nation its individuality. Above all, the language revival has stirred the deeps of national memory. The war merely hastened towards completion a process long at work. The events that followed Easter Week brought the stirring memories to a sharp point. A sudden rush of self-realisation brought the nation back to the attitude of 220 years ago the normal attitude of race-consciousness. Now, as then, the nation knows itself to be the true owner of this island, and all that is English in these shores to be usurping and intrusive.
It is natural enough that those who persist to the present day in denying the Gael’s existence, do not understand what has happened. They, whose minds are filled with England’s might and England’s culture, and who are as ignorant of Irish culture as a blind-born man of the nature of colour, do not understand that however highly we respect the achievements of Englishmen in their own country, we regard all English institutions, manners, customs, words, and works as so much annoying lumber in Ireland, so much rubbish that must be swept out and destroyed so as to enable us to make of Ireland an Irish island. As a matter of fact, Anglicised folk probably understand this better than they pretend. They know well enough as their studiously aggressive attitude shows that they are intruders, usurping the place of native sovereignty; and though they will never admit it, lest their own claims be destroyed, they are really fully conscious that the Gael and his rights exist.
The mysterious thing that has happened in our days is simply that the Secret Ireland has once more come forth into the light. The submerged people have risen and asserted themselves. The Gael has realised himself and has taken steps to convince the world of his existence. The thoroughness with which Irish Nationality has been ignored, denied and hidden adds to the vehemence of the national re-assertion, while the example of a dozen less notable submerged nationalities which have won their complete resurrection in these Apocalyptic days, has given to the Gael a hope on which all his energies are bent. For ages, in his outlawry, he has dreamed of a time when the power of might should pass and the principle of public right be restored to the world. His oppressor to-day is loud in profession of those principles on which his right to existence and self-development are based. He thus finds in his hands a moral weapon with which he will either achieve the Self-Determination accorded to all far lesser peoples, or, in the alternative, expose strong England as the most hypocritical mouther of lies that the world has seen.